It is difficult to listen to “Hurt” by Johnny Cash without feeling deep remorse. The lyrics fill Cash’s aged, haunting voice with a disgust for things in the past, and yet when heard through the pictures supplied in the music video, it is obvious that some sort of redemption or salvation is in view. The lyrics speak of pain, needles, killing, lying and hard memories. These are sung over images of a younger Cash running, riding trains, a room full of awards and trophies, ever returning to the central figure of Cash as an old man playing a guitar, sitting at a piano. Cash refers to all of his accomplishments as his “empire of dirt” that he would be willing to give up entirely if able to take back his mistakes. The video culminates with images of a crucifix, a Christ figure being nailed to a cross, ending with a brief clip of a cross and a dove flying to freedom. These images combined with the final words, promising a different sort of life indicate that Cash found some kind of final peace in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, while the song is full of an overwhelming sense of regret, one is not left hopeless—only sober and repentant.
Strange how tone and a person’s history can change a song. On the same album, “Personal Jesus” becomes a song about embracing Jesus, instead of rejecting and ridiculing him.
The Blind Boys of Alabama have a fantastic version of “Personal Jesus” as well.